The Korea Herald


NewJeans’ ‘Cookie’ hit by claims of sexualizing teen members

By Choi Ji-won

Published : Aug. 24, 2022 - 11:05

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K-pop girl group NewJeans (Ador) K-pop girl group NewJeans (Ador)

“Cookies I made. It’s so soft (what?) I keep thinking of you (ayy)”; “If you want it, you can get it”; “(Keep) looking at my cookie. The scent is different (taste it), one bite is not enough (uh)”; “Take it, don’t break it, I wanna see you taste it.”

These are few lines from girl group NewJeans’ debut lead single “Cookie,” which, according to the group’s agency Ador, is a song for fans “made with a sincerity as that of baking a cookie.”

Reading the lines, it seems to be singing about more than trying to win over the heart of one’s crush with a mouth-savoring cookie. The simple words are repeated throughout the song, alluring a “boy” with the cookie, coaxing him to devour the sweetness.

Such a suggestive metaphor involvoing cookies and love may not seem so peculiar, but being delivered by underage girls changes the whole context, according to voices that have been slamming the song for being age-inappropriate. NewJeans are all teenagers, with the eldest, Minji, being 18 years old and the youngest, Hyein, 14.

After the quintet released the song and its music video on Aug. 1, a prerelease from its self-titled debut album “New Jeans,” the song instantly sparked heated controversy, especially among foreign fans on online communities, for its provocative references and sexually objectification of the minor bandmates who sing the words.

One comment from “Lana” below the music video read, “The music is great. These lyrics, however, are utterly unacceptable, no matter how anyone tries to spin it,” while another by “Lore SF” read, “This would’ve been such a cool concept if they were grown women. Let’s not forget they’re 14- to barely 18-year-old.” Both comments ranked atop the list with thousands of likes.

Many comments slammed the evident sexual reference of “cookie” in Western culture. According to Urban Dictionary, “cookie” can refer to female genitalia.

The comment by “Lana” added, “Their company knew what they were doing with this song, they knew the discussion it would provoke -- it’s all (alarmingly) premeditated.” Another comment also lashed out at the company, saying, “They know Westerners are listening to the music and they know what cookie is synonymous within the West.”

K-pop girl group NewJeans (Ador) K-pop girl group NewJeans (Ador)

While such accusations were initially raised among English-speaking fans online, it spread to local communities recently, especially after a local YouTuber posted a video describing the lyrics as too obscene for minors to sing.

YouTuber Kim Tae-hoon of the English-teaching channel Bridge TV on Wednesday posted a video that broke down “Cookie,” arguing it is inappropriate for underage girls.

He starts the video by explaining the dual meaning of “cookie” for local viewers unaware of the cultural context in which the lyrics can be understood.

“If I was to ask anyone who is comfortable in using English whether these lyrics were ‘provocative,’ 100 out of 100 would say it is. The lyrics are very ‘sexual,’” Kim said, speaking in Korean and stating the quoted words in English.

Kim, also a simultaneous Korean-English interpreter, went on to explain that the use of such sexual metaphors may be common in the pop music scene, just as in the case of Blackpink and Selena Gomez’s collaborative “Ice Cream” and Cardi B’s “WAP.” But with NewJeans, the problem is that all five members are teens. Even for those people who may have grown “numb” to such sexual metaphors, the young girls singing the obscene lyrics of “Cookie” would make them feel uncomfortable, Kim added.

Despite the continuing controversy, Ador has remained unresponsive and has only announced that it will take legal actions against any kind of malevolent comments made against the group.

Through a statement released Aug. 10, Ador said, “The company has decided to take legal actions against the kind of actions such as malicious slander, spread of false rumors and defamation of NewJeans and the contents produced by the company.”